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REVIEW: Far From the Madding Crowd

An intimate look at love, independence and sheep

Bathsheba Everdeen (Juliet Martin) refuses the proposal of a fellow farm-owner, and in doing so sets in motion the events of the play, where we witness her attempts to navigate love and personal independence, against the backdrop of her controversial decision to act as bailiff of her own farm. Faced with three suitors, we see Bathsheba follow both head and heart, battling to retain her selfhood against men with their own underlying agendas. The star of A Level English curriculums everywhere, Far From the Madding Crowd so over-saturates our understanding of canonical English literature, I welcomed the opportunity to revisit the novel in a different form and a new light.

The production works well in the Larkum Studio, which is definitely the right setting for it; a production which turns such a close lens on intimacy, both romantic and platonic, really benefits from the closeness the space imposes on the audience. Because of this, there is perhaps the opportunity for the production to suffer from such close audience scrutiny, but Far From the Madding Crowd excels, with good acting across the board able to stand up to the demands of the space.

Moments of particularly good acting were found in the pieces of scripted movement that accompany the more naturalistic scenes. An engaging addition, they cleverly allowed the cast to convey Hardy's rich exploration of love within the economy of time the production demands. However, these moments seemed somewhat obviously deployed throughout the play, capitalising upon moments of high drama, as opposed to offering the audience a greater insight into quieter moments of more nuance. Whilst these scenes could also interrupt the fluidity of the production, and transitions were often less polished that they could be, the scene between Tory (Jamie Bisping) and Fanny (Isla Waring) upon their reunion was a real gem of the production as a whole. The music which accompanied these moments matched the tone of the scenes well, if chosen and operated with a slightly heavy hand.

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Photo credit: Marianne Haroche. Above, painting: Jess Piggott

Bathsheba's declaration, ‘I cannot love a man I do not know’, captures my main hesitation with this production. Because of the short running time and the huge amount of source material to cover, plot progression is prioritised above character development, and whilst some characters do manage to leave their mark (Bathsheba and Gabriel Oak (Tom Hilton) have brilliant chemistry together), others suffer because of this.

Aside from this, props were excellent, and apart from a distracting sword, were used appropriately and engagingly. The scattered plant materials which bordered the stage area brilliantly evoked the farms the characters move within, whilst freeing the production of the burden of physically realising those settings through larger set design pieces.

I particularly appreciated the commitment of the cast and crew to highlighting both the light and shade of the script, this oscillation between humour and tragedy enriching both experiences and adding depth to the emotions portrayed. Despite a few hiccups, many of which (such as stilted transitions) can be ironed out along with opening night nerves, Far From the Madding Crowd was an enjoyable production.

3/5 stars

Far From the Madding Crowd is on at 8pm at the ADC Larkum Studio until Saturday 24th February.